April 19, 2021
We have such a treat in store for you today! I’m chatting with my friend, Laura Neff of Laura Lee Creative, and she is a HoneyBook expert, workflow systems, all that stuff–she is your girl. So we dive into so much good stuff in this episode, and she gives you really good strategies and tactics for getting organized in your business like what is a workflow? What is a system? How do you put them together? How do you create that in your business? This is literally like a little mini workflow and systems course, and it’s going to be one you’re going to want to re-listen to for sure. So let’s go ahead and dive into today’s episode.
Tavia: Okay, Laura. Welcome to the podcast. I’m so excited to talk workflow and systems and all the things that we know that we need that we maybe sometimes always don’t have. So thanks for being here.
Laura: I’m very excited. Thank you so much for having me.
From Burned Out to Balanced
Tavia: So I was reading your website, which is beautiful by the way. And I was reading through your About section and you have such a cool story. Can you share 2013 Laura to today? Tell us about you.
Laura: Yeah, so I like to say, I think on my website, I say I’m just your typical multi-passionate Enneagram 3. And I did not know what that meant back in 2013, I just knew I wanted to do all of the things and grow a business and have freedom and pursue Entrepreneurship. But 2013 Laura was working as an interior designer at an architecture design build firm. And I was designing restaurants, nightclubs, and hotel lobbies, and conference spaces and stuff like that for celebrity chefs and the likes. And on the outside, people are like, “Wow, that seems so cool!” And I’m like, “My soul was sucked out of me every single day. And I was treated like just dirt on somebody’s shoe.” And at the time in 2013, I was doing wedding photography on the side. And that’s something that I always wanted to pursue, but my parents were like, “Go to college for something else. You can always teach yourself photography and do it as a hobby.” And back then, I feel like photography was not what it is now, where you can really make a business out of it and make a living off of it. And so much has changed even just in the 8 years that I’ve been in it, but I wanted to pursue wedding photography. So I was doing that on the weekends while I was working in this full-time job. And I was around happy people all the time. So I was like, “Alright, how do I get myself to be a wedding photographer full time?” So fast forward 2015, I quit my job as a designer, took a job at a photo studio. And that was just a stepping stone for me to have sort of a freelance position while I had more time to work on photography. And just also be surrounded by photographers and editors. So I became a photo editor for them, and I learned a ton about systems and workflows because they had none. And they expected you to edit 500 to a thousand photos a day for Toys R Us and Christmas tree shops and all of these things. And I was like, “Well, do you guys have a system?” And they’re like, “No, but you can make one.” I was like, “Okay, cool.”
So I started off with that. And at the design job, I was also a Project Manager. So I had to manage all of the construction team. And construction men are not exactly the most organized people in the world, so I had to be. So I started like getting all of these skills from these stepping stones into my career as a wedding photographer that really helped. But in October 2015, I finally made the leap to full-time wedding photography. And immediately I burned out. And I felt like this dream job that I had, honestly this sounds crazy, but I’ve wanted to be a photographer since I was 2. So my mom was a photographer, so it was just the only thing I knew as a 2-year old, we had a dark room in my house growing up.
And so I finally quit. I think I was 22 when I went full time. And then all of a sudden I burned out and I had no passion for my work. I was exhausted. It was just burning the candle at both ends for so long. And I would cry all the time. I had anxiety, I had to get a mouth guard. I actually found it when I was cleaning out my parents’ house the other day, cause they’re moving. And I found this mouth guard that I needed because I was grinding my teeth from stress. And I just felt like I had dreamt of running this photography business for so long. And it was nothing like I expected it to be. And I was working a hundred hours a week, easily. Like 80 was a normal, you know, with shooting, you’re driving sometimes six hours for a wedding and shooting 8 to 12 hours on a day.
And so, that alone, you could end up working, you know, 18 hours on one day with drive time and everything. And then all the post-production was killing me. So my mom said, “You need to create a system and a workflow. You need a procedure manual, and then I can help.” And I was like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. So explain.” And she was working at a dentist office as an office manager. So she told me what a procedure manual was. I ended up reading the E-Myth Revisited, which is a great book for anybody who wants to start diving into the world of systems. But I sat down at my dining room table and I wrote out every single thing I did from A to Z–from the second somebody inquires on my website all the way through down delivering my final gallery. And now this is a photography example, but it can be across the board with any type of business, any type of photography business, service-based business.
So I wrote everything down and I got a CRM that year in 2016 now. So I quit in Fall. We’re now into Winter 2016. I got a CRM and I started plugging my workflows into my CRM, creating e-mail templates, and basically anything that repeated multiple times. If I had to do something more than twice in my business, it got a template. It got a procedure, an e-mail template, a questionnaire template. And I just got super obsessed with working smarter, not harder. And that next year, so going into 2016, I had 28 weddings, about 60 to 80 portrait sessions. And in the beginning of the year, I was like, “How the heck am I going to do all of this?” But once I had that workflow in place, I was able to go down to working between 10 to 20 hours a week.
So I cut my work hours down by about 80%. And the second thing that happened, I mean that alone was obviously awesome. Getting all that time freedom back. I ended up taking two sabbaticals for a month-long each and I did that in the middle of wedding season. And my referrals actually increased by 1200% that year. And I completely give all the credit to my workloads and systems for that because I was giving people an incredible experience while getting my life back. So I like to say my story is like a burned out to balanced story. And I started to believe that work-life balance was actually achievable. And now I am just so fired up about helping people find time freedom and run a thriving business while having a thriving personal life. Because I definitely used to think that you had to sacrifice one or the other. And now I know that’s not true. I mean, you got to build the business that you want and redefine success how you want, and that’s just the coolest thing about being an entrepreneur! So that’s my long but short story.
Definition of Terms
Tavia: That is incredible. Like just to imagine cutting down your weekly working hours so significantly by adding in workflows and systems. That is so significant. So what is procedure manual? You said your mom wanted you to create one. What does that mean?
Creating a Procedure Manual
Tavia: I love that. Thank you so much for defining all of those things. Because I know from me, those words can sometimes be interchangeable. Procedure manual, not so much. But workflows and systems, kind of like, “Oh, it’s all the same thing,” but I love how you said workflows is what you’re doing and the systems is how to do that thing. So like, maybe edit the client’s photos and then the systems would then be like upload the photo, insert memory card into computer. Okay. That is super, super helpful. And then what does the Procedure manual look like? How is that laid out? Because my mind automatically goes to wanting to categorize it into like Pre-Session, Marketing, and During the Session. What does that look like for you?
1. Create a workflow
Laura: That’s actually exactly how I do it. So I’ll get to the procedure manual part. But when I create a workflow, I always think of it almost like a table of contents of a book to start and what those chapters are. In creating a workflow, you want to first outline what those chapters are. So for me as a wedding or brand photographer, it would be:
For weddings, there’s a little bit more, but that’s basically my brand session. There’s session strategy that goes into it. So I just kind of outline the table of contents first.
2. Create systems
Laura: And then, I fill in all of those “chapters” with the tasks that need to happen. And then once I have those tasks, so once I have the workflow, then I can write–I actually did this yesterday for our proposal processes because we just added new services for brand photography and got a new admin assistant. So I was like, “I need to update these processes. They’re like four years old.”
So our Inquiry to On-boarding process is what I wanted to outline. So I said, “Alright, I have three chapters I need to write out here: Inquiry, Booking, On-boarding. What are the tasks that happen in the Inquiry Process? It’s a lot of e-mails, there might be a consult, there might be a Calendly link thrown in there to schedule something.
And then the Booking Process, depending on what they need, I need to send a proposal. So I had to literally write and screenshot, “Okay. If they book Brand Package (2-hour), they need two payments. First payment is due upon receipt. Second payment is due two weeks before the session. This is the contract template that you need to use. This is what you need to change on the contract. You need to look up if there’s travel time between their session and my house. Here’s my address.”
And so I literally wrote that out in a Google doc and then I sent it off to her. So we did that for every package that we have because a quarterly brand package is going to have a different payment schedule than a two-hour brand package. And I think most people would just keep doing that manually over and over and over again. And I always say, when I’m presenting about these things, that your growth is inhibited when your capacity is maxed out and the easiest way to max out your capacity is not having workflows and systems and just a streamlined or efficient way of doing things or not asking for help. And that is something so simple. And so many people just like have white-knuckle grips on these tasks in their business because they think other people will mess up or take control of the bus and then crash it.
And when you have a procedure, somebody can just take that Google doc that you created and follow it. And if they do mess up, that means that your process is not fully outlined. And you’re not the only one who I’ve been teaching this for six years. My husband still argues with me that workflows and systems are basically the same thing. And I’m like, “If I gave you my workflow, would you know how to edit photos or do you know how to cull?” And he was like, “No.” And I was like, “Exactly! That’s what a system is.” And he’s like, “Oh, okay.”
So I always use the example from Friends of Monica and Phoebe making cookies. And Monica is trying to make, and hopefully this will wrap it home for people, Monica is trying to bake cookies. She knows all the ingredients that goes into the cookies, but she’s trying to replicate Phoebe’s grandma’s cookie recipe without having the actual recipe. And she goes through 18 batches, 17 or 18 batches of making these cookies. And she’s like, “They’re still not right. What am I getting wrong?” And then she asks Phoebe, she’s like, “Do you know where your grandma got the recipe?” And she’s like, “Yeah. She said it was some French guy, Nestle Toulouse.” And she’s like, “Nestle Tollhouse, Phoebe? Is this the recipe on the back of the chocolate chip bag?” And she’s like, “Oh yeah, it is.” And she’s like, “Oh my God!”
And so I always say those, all the ingredients of making the cookies was the workflow. And maybe she knew like, alright, you turn on the oven, but she didn’t know how long to cook things, how much flour to add, stuff like that. So I think cookbooks are the perfect example of a procedure manual. It’s whoever the chef is that wrote the cookbook is teaching us exactly how to do what they do.
Helpful Tools and Software for Project Management
Tavia: Oh man. That’s so good and so clear. And I love Friends, so when you started talking about Friends, I was like, yes. And with Nestle, I immediately went to that! I love that. Okay. So good. So I know you use HoneyBook. I don’t know if you’ve mentioned HoneyBook, but what are some of your favorite tools and softwares to make not only like the procedure manual, but also the workflow and then the system that goes in the workflow. What are you using?
HoneyBook Features You Need to Use More
Tavia: So good. I thank you so much for being so specific on all those different things, because it makes sense in my mind. Hopefully, those listening, it just clicked with your mind too. So we talked about HoneyBook and you talked about workflows and tasks and the difference, and that is super clear to me, but is there something in HoneyBook that you feel like people are maybe using incorrectly? Because I know that people listening to this are using, a lot of my students and a lot of my listeners use HoneyBook. So is there something about HoneyBook that you’re like, “Oh my gosh, people are not getting this or they’re underutilizing something?”
How Can Workflows and Systems Work Outside of Business
Tavia: So good. I love that. Yeah. I’m probably guilty of not using my pipeline, like a table of contents, like what you said. So I kind of want to go a different direction cause I feel like you covered all of that stuff so, so well. So I’m curious to know, are there any other parts of your life that you have implemented these strategies like systems and workflows and all of that outside of business?
Laura: So I’m trying to get better at it. I use, this is going to sound simple, but I use the Full Focus Planner and I’m really trying to create routines. And there’s a section of the planner that talks about having a morning routine, a workday start-up routine, workday shutdown, and an evening routine. And I’m really trying to create systems for being in those routines. Because I find when I do the things that I say I want to do in those routines, I just have such a better happier day, but I don’t have necessarily a system that I follow every time, but I’m really big into just time blocking. And I have a plan for our weekend. Every time my husband, it drives him nuts. He’s like “Can’t we just like be, and you know, do whatever we want to do?” I’m like, “No, that’s not efficient because what if it’s a nice day and we don’t have a plan. And then we’re just going to sit and watch Netflix.” So I always try to have backup just ideas and tasks and stuff like that.
But I would say that I’d use ClickUp in my personal life for grocery lists or vacation planning, and travel planning, for wedding planning. We’re getting, well, we got married during COVID in June of 2020, but we’re having a wedding vow renewal/reception in 2021. And so I have all of my wedding planning tasks in there. I have my guest lists in ClickUp. So I would say I use systems for things like that. But otherwise, I think I actually texted a friend this morning and said, “I’m really glad I don’t run my business like I run my personal life,” because I had forgotten to RSVP to a bridal shower for his fiance. And he was like, “Hey, are you going to this thing?” I was like, “Oh shoot. Yeah, good thing I don’t run my business this way.”
So personal routines and systems need improvement, but I am constantly trying. And for anybody who likes the Enneagram, I’m an Enneagram 7, which is the visionary and the enthusiast. And the stereotype is that they’re very monkey-brained and scatter-brained and just like a squirrel. And they do all the things I want to do all the things. And that is honestly why I need workflows and systems. People are shocked when I say I’m a 7, because they’re like 7’s aren’t organized. I’m like, “No, no, no, I need these because I’m a seven.” And I have to have some sort of structure or I’ll be doomed from all the chaos in my brain.
How Can Workflows and Systems Work in Learning
Tavia: I was thinking that whenever you said you were a seven, I was like, “Laura, you’re like the least seven, seven.” I mean, I see a 7 in you, but talking about all this stuff, I was like, “Are you sure you’re not a one,” but that totally makes sense. Having to force yourself to do one-ish type things because you’re a seven and it might not come totally naturally to go. So that, that makes sense. That’s really good.
When it comes to education and learning–I’m kind of selfishly asking this question because this is an area that I’ve struggled with–when I’m learning something, whether that’s like a book or listening to a podcast or taking a course or working with a mentor, like any of that. ‘Cause like Laura and I are in a group coaching program together and we just came off of three days of a virtual conference. And I have like a notebook and I’m taking notes, but it’s like, I don’t want to forget these things. I want them to be ingrained. You know what I mean? So do you have a system or a way that you take information that you’re learning in like a mastermind or course or whatever, and actually implement it or remember it?
Laura: Yeah. So I use ClickUp for this and–combination of ClickUp and Google docs, and even so much as books that I’m reading. So in my ClickUp, specifically for courses and things like that, or podcast episodes, I will have a whole project dedicated to that course. And I first off, write out all of the videos that I need to watch so that I can check them off as I watch them. But I can also take notes within there as well. And the cool thing about ClickUp actually is that there is something called a ClickUp documents, which works really just like a Google doc.
Other than you can take things that you write and create tasks from them, which is a game changer for courses and podcasts and books. So I actually will–this is like next level. People will think I’m crazy. But when I finish a book, I highlight everything, not everything, but I highlight so much in business books. I cannot listen to them on Audible and then I’ll go in and either I or my assistant will take my book and write up all of the highlighted things that I highlighted into a ClickUp document. And then they can take the ones that are action items and create ClickUp tasks from it. Because I think that is everybody’s biggest downfall and was mine for so long–and I don’t want to say that I do this perfectly, because this is still a big downfall for me–is just absorbing and not taking action on things. But I think having that system of like taking the highlights or taking like the retreat that we were on for the last three days, taking those notes, putting it into a document, and then making action items of things, because there’s just so much content overload out there. And I feel like there is life-changing, business-changing information in books. It’s like the cheapest form of education and people read them and they get to the end and that’s it. And then they never think about it again. So that would be my system for that.
Tavia: I love that. That’s really, really good and that’s so cool how you can take it and put it into a task or taking the…’cause I highlight books like crazy and I will sometimes get to the end of the year or even sometimes the end of the quarter and I’ll go back and review and read back through the highlighted sections of books that I read that year or like books that I remember being impactful. But I love the idea of taking it even a step further and creating tasks or to do’s from that information that you learned. So that’s really good. So speaking of books, what are you reading or listening to or learning right now? Like what’s your focus?
Laura: I am reading Traction currently. And I started again this morning. I never finished it. I started on a plane recently and got to page 60 and then I forgot everything because I have not put it into ClickUp yet. So I was like, I’m going to start at the beginning. So Traction is all about team building and structure and creating a vision and operating system that your entire team can utilize to push the business forward with one core focus. And I feel like that’s something that you and I had been learning a lot about on this retreat that we were just on, but I think that I have for so long, just had an awesome team. I love my team, but I think people were doing tasks that weren’t their strengths. And so this book is all about helping people get in the right seats on the right bus and the right role. So I’m reading that. I’m also reading Business Made Simple by Don Miller and that’s his new book. And I really like all of the Michael Hyatt books and Writing the Visionary Leader. So this is where the Enneagram 7 comes out. It’s like I’m reading 40 books at one time. He just came out with a new one called the double win, which I haven’t read yet, but I just pre-ordered that. So definitely just all books to simplify and scale. I feel that are the common denominators from everything I’m reading right now.
Tavia: Awesome. I love Michael Hyatt too. And you were talking about your Full Focus Planner and I literally have my Full Focus Planner here next to me so we’re on the same page. I love Michael Hyatt and I am the same as you. I’ve read Traction and I was like, “This is almost a little course in and of itself.” I feel like I need to, it’s definitely not a book you just read through. It’s like a little mini course, but I really like where it’s going. I feel like I need almost the pre version, where somebody said was Rocket Fuel. So I might be reading Rocket Fuel first and then maybe into Traction.
Laura: Yes, I’ve read that. It is good. And knowing your visionary integrator personality is really cool.
How To Start Creating Workflows and Systems
Tavia: Awesome. So good. There’s so much more we could talk about, but I do my best to keep these episodes to 30 minutes and we’re already at 40. So I think that people are going to have so many things, so many ideas running through their head after this episode. So if there’s somebody listening who is like, “I don’t really have any systems in place or maybe I’m kind of using HoneyBook or I just have some email templates,” what would be a good next step for that person who wants to get all this stuff going, but feels kind of overwhelmed with where to start?
Laura: Yes. I would start writing out your Google doc checklist of what you do in the order that you do things. And once you have that, you’re going to start to see the holes of e-mail templates you need to create or questionnaires you need to create. And I want people to dream bigger than what they currently do, because I think that’s where a lot of our custom workflow clients fall short is like, “Okay, yeah, this is my 5-step workflow that I’m doing.” And I’m like, “You don’t have any client education. You have no communication. You don’t communicate with other vendors.” You don’t have a client experience in this workflow.
And I just want to drive that point home that your workflow is a catalyst for giving an incredible client experience if you let it. It doesn’t just need to be a robotic tool of telling you what to do and when to do it. It can really give your clients a better experience. So writing down the Google doc, I think would be the first step.
And if anybody wants help, reach out. Our website is lauraleecreative.com and we would be happy to help. We do custom workflows for people, and then we implement them. We are HoneyBook specialists. So we will implement into HoneyBook. We try to not do too many other CRMs because we just want to get real good at one and go from there. But yeah, we do. We do a lot of custom stuff. So if anybody needs help and I can also give you a coupon too for your listeners. We have a Workflow Course for Photographers. We’re creating one for all creatives soon, hopefully in Q2. But if any of your listeners want a coupon, I can create that for you.
Tavia: Oh, thank you. I didn’t know that. And that would be amazing. So we will, yeah, you’ll send that to me. We’ll put it in the show notes and on the blog post. And so they want info on becoming a custom workflow client in HoneyBook, lauraleecreative.com, which we’ll link in the show notes as well. You’re @lauraleecreative on Instagram too, right?
Laura: Yep. And that can direct them to DM me, they can e-mail me.
Tavia: DM and tell her ‘thank you’ for dropping so many knowledge bombs on this episode, because I think this is one people are going to want to re-listen to over and over. So make sure to connect with Laura and at least tell her, thank you. If not, hire her to do your workflows because you know, I had an episode recently about outsourcing and there’s just, sometimes there’s some things that are just worth paying somebody else to do to set up so that you don’t have to spend your energy and time thinking about it. You know? So if that’s one of those things for you, connect with Laura.
Laura, thank you so much for being here. This was a really, really fun episode.
Laura: This is awesome. Thank you so much for having me.
So, so good. Right? Okay. So just like at the end of every episode, I highly encourage you to take just a couple minutes to write down your Top 3-5 takeaways. What are some next action steps for you after listening to everything that Laura just shared that you can start to implement in your business today? Because just like she and I talked about, just listening and digesting information, isn’t going to help your business. You have to actually take action on what you want to do. So take a couple of minutes to write down those few things and make sure to connect with Laura. We’ve got all of her links in the show notes for you to do that.
And remember my friend, if you have a passion, it’s not an accident because not everyone loves the thing that you love. So whatever your passion is, get up there and make it happen. Have a great week.
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